UK short of Libya targets, not resources -source
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON, July 14 (Reuters) - Britain is running short of military targets in Libya as the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are increasingly using civilian infrastructure and vehicles, a defence ministry source said on Thursday.
Britain is a leading member of a coalition enforcing a United Nations-mandated air campaign over Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces, who have proved resilient despite nearly four months of devastating air strikes.
The length of the bombing campaign has raised concerns in Britain and abroad that coalition members, of whom many have cut defence spending to tackle budget deficits, will not be able to sustain the tempo of attacks.
"We're not short of military assets. It's the targets. There's only so many targets you can take out whilst minimising civilian damage," the senior source told Reuters.
"We've had credible intelligence that Gaddafi is using civilian warehouses. He's definitely changing his tactics," said the source, who also echoed NATO claims that Gaddafi's forces were using civilian vehicles to deter air strikes.
Western states are frustrated by a five-month rebel campaign that -- despite support from NATO warplanes -- has failed to overthrow Gaddafi, and some governments are now looking instead to talks as a way out of the conflict.
Civilian casualties undermine NATO's mission to protect Libyan non-combatants. In June, the alliance admitted that its weapons destroyed a house in Tripoli in which Libyan officials said nine civilians were killed.
Senior British military staff have publicly warned of the growing strain on their resources caused by the Libya campaign, prompting calls for the defence ministry to re-open a comprehensive review of the military published last autumn.
Britain also has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States.
Under the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the 34 billion pound ($55 billion) defence budget will be cut by eight percent in real terms over the next four years, part of measures to tackle Britain's budget deficit.
The defence source dismissed calls to revisit the review.
"Current military deployments fall within the assumptions of the SDSR, and there's still slack. We haven't dropped any of our standing commitments," the source said.
Senior military figures and analysts are also concerned that major defence programmes will be at risk if there is no firm commitment to increase defence spending after 2015.
The programmes are part of the military's "Future Force 2020" plan, and include replacing Britain's fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, building two new aircraft carriers and buying both Eurofighter and Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) combat jets.
Lockheed Martin builds the JSF while the Eurofighter is made by a consortium of Italy's Finmeccanica , Britain's BAE Systems and EADS .
Prime Minister David Cameron said last year it was his "strong view" that defence spending should rise after 2015 but offered no guarantees, and with the next general election due in 2015, the decision could be out of his control.
The defence source was confident spending would rise.
"If there isn't an increase post 2015, that would threaten future force 2020. Everyone knows that, which is why we're confident of getting an increase."